Thursday, 25 April 2013

Machinery in 'The Rape of the Lock'


The first version of ‘The Rape of the Lock’ was made up of only four cantos, containing the main incidents of the game of cards, cutting of the lock and ensuing battle therewith. This humorous piece was meant to bring about a happy reconciliation between the two families of the Fermors and Petres. This version, however, was never published and it had not yet taken on the shape of a mock-epic. It was meant to be read by a selected number of people related or close with the two families.

Pope saw the possibility of expanding it into a mock-heroic poem.

This was done by including into the body of the poem the supernatural creatures like the sylphs and gnomes who seem to be the guiding force behind the central action of the poem.

Sources Of Pope's Machinery

            Pope took the name of Ariel from Shakespeare's ‘The Tempest’, and the idea of the sylphs from a French book, ‘Le Comts do Gabalis’, which gives an account of the Rosicrucian mythology of spirits. According to this mythology, the four elements are inhabited by spirits, which are called sylphs (air), gnomes (earth), nymphs (water), and salamanders (fire). Two of these kinds-sylphs and gnomes - are introduced by Pope in ‘The Rape of the Lock’.

These Ariel spirits of Rosicrucian mythology were tiny, light beings, which would exactly suit his mock-heroic poem and these are as artificial as the society depicted in the poem.

The Functions Of The Machinery

Ariel, who guards Belinda, assigns different functions to the spirits under his control. One was given the charge of Belinda's fan, another was to take care of her ear-rings, the third was to look after her watch, and fourth was to guard her favorite lock. Ariel warned the pigmy band of spirits against negligence in their duties. Severe punishment was to be awarded to those who failed in the discharge of their duties, The punishments with which the delinquents were threatened were: (I) to be shut up in small bottles, (II) to be pierced through with pins, (III) to be held fast in the eye of a bodkin, (IV) or to be stuck up in gums and pomades.

In spite of all the careful vigilance of Ariel and the sylphs, the lock of Belinda's hair is raped. The spirits do not in the least influence the action.

                        Even then before the fatal engines closed,
A wretched sylph fondly interposed;
Fate urged the shears, and cut the sylph in twain.

So it is the machinery which enables Pope, in various ways, to create the mock epic effect. All the epic poets like Homer, Virgil, Tasso and Milton made use of the machinery, and it was in the fitness of things that Pope should also parody it in his mock-epic.

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